Imagine a surrealist tableau of birds slowly melting and falling to the ground. A woman carrying a little boy, her legs dissolving with every step. A bride, treading in agony, through roots and weeds. The overture from Tristan and Isolde as the sole sound to accompany this odd, deeply depressing image in your head.So begins Melancholia, Lars von Trier’s latest effort, which won Kirsten Dunst – more than deservingly – the Best Actress award at this year’s Cannes Festival.

The movie is divided into two parts. The first part is entitled ‘Justine’ and focuses on Dunst’s character, a talented art director about to get married to Michael (True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgard), a handsome fellow, who’s also a walking straight-laced cliché.  The evening is crowned by the odd appearance of a red star in the sky, which Justine notices before walking into the isolated château where the ‘festivities’ are about to take place. Her sister’s husband, John (played as a pedantic daddy-figure by Kiefer Sutherland) says that this is the star Antares. By the end of the wedding the star is no longer visible, thus predicting the inevitable doom.

Justine sits out most of her own party and when she’s among her family it is all fake laughs. When her cold-blooded domineering mother (a chilling-to-the-bone Charlotte Rampling) openly declares to the entire party how much she despises marriage it is nothing but the beginning of one awkward, awful evening. By the end of the night Justine has had sex with a wedding guest on the golf course, and has quit her job. Her patient husband leaves. “But seriously, Michael, what did you expect?” she asks him. It is evident that Justine is, and has been, unhappy for awhile – and by looking at her dysfunctional family, it is clear why. “Is everyone in your family stark raving mad?” John asks Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg).

The second part of the movie is entitled ‘Claire’ and focuses on Justine’s sister (a heart-breaking Charlotte Gainsbourg). The events in this part of the movie take place after the wedding, when Justine is already so deeply sunk into depression that she can no longer care for herself. Claire can’t help but worry about this mysterious ‘fly-by’ planet, coincidentally named Melancholia, that is threatening to collide into the Earth.  John reassures her that this is impossible, but both Claire and Justine know something fatal is about to happen.  However, while Justine grows more and more calm and stable about The End, it is Claire who now begins to sink into a state of perpetual sadness and worry. “The Earth is evil. We don’t need to grieve for it,” Justine tells her sister while trying to explain that life is only on Earth, and so we are unconditionally alone. However, while Claire is afraid and doesn’t want to die, Justine is welcoming Melancholia; she is almost driven to ecstasy by the idea of this mysterious body penetrating the Earth.

The women in the film are portrayed as more open to nature and more intuitive to its goings on than men. All the male characters are shown as weak. Michael leaves Justine, and then her seemingly jolly father also abandons her in her deepest moment of despair. Later, John leaves Claire and their son, Leo (Cameron Spurr) as well. When the end comes, Justine, Claire and Leo are there to face it together.

To say Melancholia is a film about the end of the world is an understatement. For one, Kirsten Dunst’s and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s performances alone can make for an intriguing essay about the human condition. Von Trier’s brush strokes paint a portrait of depression, surrounded by deep melancholia, denial, fear, and a weak attempt for a return to normalcy.  The film’s path is circular – like Melancholia circling the Earth in the Dance of Death. Just as you are made aware of the ending from the beginning, the movie make its point: some things are more powerful than you.


By Radina Papukchieva
Follow me on twitter @Papukchieva


About Radina Papukchieva

Radina Papukchieva came to live in, be consumed by, and love Montreal in 2003 from Bulgaria, with her mother and little sister. She is still a semester away from graduating from Concordia University, where she is doing a double major in journalism and communication and cultural studies, as well as a minor in film studies. Her interests include film, TV, and popular culture. And Woody Allen. She is a film writer for and co-creator of The Cafe Phenomenon. Her list of inspirational people includes Tina Fey, primarily. Among her other interests are music, art, literature, and of course, food. Her film reviews have appeared in The Concordian and The Mirror.

2 responses »

  1. CMrok93 says:

    It moves on a little too long for me and the first hour really dragged on but Dunst’s performance was amazing and the last hour had me gripped the whole time. Good review.

  2. slowpan says:

    I love Von Trier’s visuals. The relationships between the characters and the reversal of roles between Justine and Clair is interesting. Great movie.

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